Jan 16, 2008
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Myanmar to auction some 1,600 lots of precious stones

Jan 16, 2008

Photo : Khin Maung Win/AFP
YANGON, Jan 16, 2008 (AFP) - Military-run Myanmar has opened another major auction of gems and jade in the nation's economic hub Yangon, despite international efforts to cut off the junta's sales, state media said Wednesday, January 16th.

Nearly 400 lots of precious stones and about 1,200 lots of jade are up for sale at the auction that opened Tuesday, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

About 100 foreigners were among the 637 merchants attending the event, the paper said, despite international efforts to end sales of stones from Myanmar.

The paper gave no details about the sale, but said that another auction would be held in March.

Myanmar, one of the poorest countries, is the source of up to 90 percent of the world's rubies, and each auction of precious stones rakes in more than 100 million dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the military regime.

The junta sold gems worth 150 million dollars during its previous auction in November, defying US and European calls for a boycott.

The sales also came despite tightening sanctions against the ruling generals in the wake of a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests in September.

The United Nations said at least 31 people were killed in Myanmar after troops opened fire on the peaceful demonstrations, twice as many as the regime's official death toll of 15.

The UN also said 74 were missing after the crackdown, with more than 600 dissidents still in detention.

Following the violence in September, US First Lady Laura Bush urged companies to shun the auctions, while top jewellers Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari said they would refuse to sell Myanmar gems.

But robust demand from jade-crazed China, Thailand and Singapore has continued to boost gem trading.

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